Editorial: Agencies can do better with their Web sites

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Ad agency Web sites suck. Well, most of them. I was doing research recently that involved visiting a long list of agency Web sites, including the global players in the direct marketing space and the generalists.

How do I despise them? Let me count the ways: Home pages that take forever to load. Flash run amok. No option to skip the intro screen. Automatic sound. I could go on about the inability to find basic information, like phone numbers, but let's just stick with the creative.

Flash animation has been around more than a decade, and most Web site usability experts contend that using Flash on the home page with fancy site intros on any site detracts from a person's experience. It's a huge no-no for the direct marketing community. It is not in the agency's best interest to throw a roadblock up, especially on one's home page. You'll lose the fish before you've had a chance to hook them, and they will just go find chum somewhere else.

It is ironic. Creativity is the heart of the ad agency. Clients have turned to them since the turn of the century to come up with the most creative ideas for selling products, for helping these companies acquire and keep customers.

While I am regularly impressed by clever and inventive campaigns that come across my desk and on the computer screen, this is a sure case of the cobbler's children having no shoes.

Are ad agencies really so wrapped up in campaigns that they've forgotten their Web site is the storefront they present to the world — and prospective clients?

It's not just ad agencies that appear to have no self-awareness of their own marketing savvy. Many direct marketing service providers seem to be concerned to a fault with the window dressing that often comes with a re-branding, rather than a focus on promoting the value they bring to the table. Last week, two new branding efforts were announced. One from database giant Merkle, which will now be flying a customer relations flag, and one from the Direct Marketing Association, which we hear may change its name to reflect a focus on digital and interactive marketing.

Is the well-worn CRM acronym really the best way to communicate Merkle's deep analytic capabilities?

More shocking, the DMA change — according to well-placed industry sources — may scrap the term direct marketing altogether. The DMA has spent the last decade trying to incorporate digital direct response into its universe — a laudable and necessary goal — with mixed results to date. It comes back to value. As Glenda Shasho Jones, a catalog consultant and former DMA member put it, "I don't think the problem with the DMA is the name. They really have to figure out how to make it valuable to the membership. A digital focus is not necessarily bad, but it's not going to save the association unless there is really something of value behind it."

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